Context of the 2018/2019 dispute with the University of Birmingham

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Context of the 2018/2019 dispute on fair pay, equality and improved working conditions:

Every year, trade unions on campus hold talks with the University Senior Management on the pay and working conditions of staff for the following year. In the past years, support staff trade unions (UNISON, UNITE and GMB) have held their pay talks separately from UCU (the union recognised by the university to negotiate on behalf of the collective of academic and academic-related staff). The talks usually amount to three negotiation meetings, and if necessary, one or more dispute meetings.

Please be aware that we are also running a separate campaign to bring outsourced staff in-house. As Edgbaston Park Hotel management (one of whom sits on the University’s Executive Board as well!) do not even recognise trade unions for new staff, we have not been able to negotiate with them on pay and working conditions; as a result, while the minimum rate at UoB (at least for this year) is £9/hour, new staff at the Hotel are paid £8.21/hour. For more information, please read our website updates and sign our petition to end outsourcing on campus.

2018:

On the 26th of June 2018, branch members voted in favour of a joint (support staff) unions’ pay claim for 2018/2019. This claim mirrors the national claim submitted by all Higher Education Unions. In short, we collectively voted to demand the following:

· A basic increase on all spinal points of 7.5% or £1,500, whichever is greater.

· The University to immediately become a Living Wage Accredited Employer.

· Subsequent to this year’s pay talks:

§ Talks should be held from January next year without precondition or links to other negotiations to restructure the pay-spine. These should aim to introduce a £10 per hour minimum wage at the University and to fairly space the bands, with equal numbers of semiautomatic increments for each.

In Autumn 2018, several members’ meetings  were held, where the committee consulted with members on the pay talks process (as the University failed to meet any of the demands), and the latter reiterated their commitment to the June pay claim motion. An emergency motion was passed in September to reject the University’s first pay offer of 2% (or £435, whichever is greater) made in our second meeting with them, and to proceed with an indicative ballot, were the University to refuse to make an improved offer.

Up until October, all unions on campus worked together on a Joint Unions Report, and the demands in the report were passed at separate branch meetings. In November, we all joined forces and held a joint members’ meeting (with Roger Godsiff MP as a guest speaker) where we launched the Joint Unions Report that includes a series of pay and working conditions-related matters that reflect the main struggles faced by staff across the University. We also proposed solutions to all of these issues, and called on the University to meaningfully negotiate with us.

All unions also held a meeting with the University management on the 6th November as part of negotiations, to discuss the matters in the report, but the latter refused to negotiate on any of the 30 demands. These demands had been voted on by members of both UNISON and UCU. They also refused to talk about pay with the support staff unions (although we made it clear that that meeting was also a dispute meeting), and the reason they gave us for refusing to talk about pay was because UCU reps were present in the room. This is how they are trying to divide us!

Due to repeated failure on the part of University of Birmingham management to meet any of our pay claim and working conditions demands, the UoB branch of UNISON held an indicative ballot in October-November 2018. Despite the extra hurdles imposed by the Trade Union Act 2016 (such as reaching a 50% voting threshold), a high percentage of members voted overwhelmingly to reject the University’s pay ‘offer’. They also gave the committee a strong mandate to conduct a formal strike ballot on improved pay and working conditions.

In November 2018, the University sent an email to all staff, justifying their pay offer – we wrote a response here. We do not have access to all staff’s email addresses, and as such there is an automatic imbalance between the reach that Senior Management have to justify their decisions, and our members’ collective views. This is why it is important that all members and supporters understand the details of the dispute, and let others know why this campaign matters.

After meeting the University three times and holding not one but two dispute meetings (one of which the University pretends that it did not happen), lobbying and campaigning together with MPs, members and other groups, and presenting the strong mandate from members via the ballot, the University still refused to meet even one of the demands.

Their final offer (made in October 2018 and reiterated again until the last dispute meeting in January 2019) is as follows: 

* an increase by 2% or £425, whichever is greater, with effect from 1st August 2018.
* raising the bottom point of band 200 to match the Living Wage rate from the beginning of November 2018 (for a year only!)

* raising the bottom point of band 300 to spinal point 21 with effect from 1st November 2018 (thus scrapping the lowest two pay spines on Band300).

2019:

After the University has repeatedly failed to make an improved offer to meet our reasonable demands, the committee have started the formal proceedings for a strike ballot. The ballot for fair pay, equality, and improved working conditions took place between 15th May – 3rd June 2019. You can find out campaigning materials here, our dispute video here, our response to Provost Tim Jones’ email that he sent to all staff about our ballot here, and the result of the ballot here51.3% of our members voted in the ballot, with 78.6% in favour of strike action. This is a tremendous success, considering that the Trade Union Act’s imposition of the 50% threshold has made it difficult for branches to be able to hold strike action. For branches such as ours (where members work in a variety of different buildings and experience different working conditions in their workplaces and roles)  to reach such a result is not an easy task. Active members worked tirelessly throughout the ballot period, and, with the help of active UCU members, we succeeded in holding hundreds of conversations with members and mobilising a good turnout.

We are extremely disappointed that the university is unwilling to become Living Wage Accredited, and to address our other points in the claim. Most staff on Band300 and everyone on Bands 400 and 500 will have another year of real terms pay cut. By not committing to becoming Living Wage Accredited, staff in the Hotel and Conference Park, as well as other organisations with which the university works, will not be paid the Living Wage. It also means that year after year we are facing real term pay cuts, as well as having to lobby the University intensively to keep members above the level of the accredited Living Wage (alongside all of the work we have to do to protect terms and conditions and members’ jobs). The University makes multi-million pound surpluses every year and is perfectly capable of both becoming an accredited Living Wage employer and paying staff a fair, above-inflation pay rise.

To summarise, we demand the University:

  • Gives an above RPI inflation pay increase to all support staff;
  • Becomes a Living Wage Accredited employer;
  • Eliminates the gender pay gap by 2020;
  • Fixes the Support Staff pay spine & allocates a budget for it;
  • Negotiates with all unions on the joint unions’ report on working conditions at the university (available here: http://uobunison.org.uk/demands2018